UPDATED: New swim course more than just strokes

Marc Lalonde
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Pointe Claire resident teaches 'swim to survive' technique to babies and toddlers

Pointe Claire resident Karina Renaud, pictured here at the West Island Y in Pointe Claire has launched a unique swimming program,  for babies and toddlers called Swim For Life. The course teaches basic flotation techniques for young children if they find themselves in the water.

Karina Renaud wants your kids to live.

More specifically, the Pointe Claire swimming instructor wants kids to live in and around the water and be able to save themselves if they fall in the water, no matter their age. To that end, the longtime competitive swimmer and instructor has launched a new swimming course called 'Swim For Life,' with the hopes that children as young as 10 months old can save themselves if they fall into water.

In the wake of an incident last summer, where a 16-month-old drowned in a pool in her backyard in Kirkland, many parents have become more interested in a swimming program that focuses on children under four, said Renaud, who had a long career as a competitive swimmer before settling down to raise a family. A 2010 incident involving her then-two-year-old daughter Mia brought the importance of swimming to survive close to home.

"She had just turned two, and she walked too close to the water, and splash, she's in the water. She was upset, she cried -- but she's alive," Renaud said.

Most swimming programs teach swimming as strokes, Renaud said, but that doesn't help children who are too small to propel themselves through the water.

"Babies need to learn survival skills, so they can know what to do when they fall in the water accidentally," she said, adding many early-childhood swimming programs are about helping kids feel comfortable in the water, "but here's nothing about helping kids survive in the water," she said.

To that end, Renaud, who was recently named the West Island Y's new aquatic co-ordinator, teaches her unique swim-to-survive courses two days a week at the Pointe Claire facility. The course is independent of the Y's program – she rents the pool space and teaches private clients – but she hopes to change the way young children are taught to swim.

"(Flotation aids such as) bubbles and water wings represent a false sense of security. I teach with nothing. They can do this. They really can. If you don't know how to survive in the water, that's scary. Nothing is 100-per-cent foolproof. You just hope that in the event of an accident, your child has the skill to help themselves," she said.

Renaud teaches kids how to turn their bodies to get flotation on their back – "the perfect body position," Renaud said. "It's very easy to start working on strokes at three years old," she added.

Today, Renaud's daughter gets the best of both worlds – she knows how to save herself and can swim on her own.

"She enjoys the water and she's safe," she said. "It's a win-win situation."

Quebec Lifesaving Society head Raynald Hawkins agrees. The organization has been holding 'swim to survive' pilot projects around the province, including one currently underway in Outremont, where schoolkids are paired with university students. Hawkins said a proposal to have third-graders be taught the 'swim to survive' technique is currently being studied by new Education Minister Marie Malavoy.

"They've been teaching the technique in Ontario for the last few years, and the results have been very positive," he said.

Las summer, the provincial government announced it would implement the program province-wide after a spate of the toddler drownings, and Hawkins is hopeful the new minister will also get behind the project.

For more information on the Swim For Life program, visit www.nagerpourlavie.com.

Organizations: Swim For Life

Geographic location: Pointe Claire, Kirkland

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